Game Accessibility Still Making News

I’m happy to report that another wonderful article about game accessibility has surfaced, featuring a couple folks I know, a couple I don’t, and a little smattering of me! It’s written by the same person, (Richard Moss), who wrote the last accessibility article for Polygon, and is just as detailed, just as well-researched, and I assure you, just as long. Check it out

GDC for All to See!

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m happy to report that the GDC panel I was a part of, entitled “Beyond Graphics: Reaching the Visually Impaired Gamer,” is now live and available for the world to see. I’m not talking just the slide show, no no, this is the full video of the entire panel. Watch me bring the message of blind gaming to the masses. Listen to the interesting questions we received once the talking was done. Listen as one of my co-panelists murders a small creature! It all happens in this panel, and now you can check it out.

The Xbox One from a BLind Gamer’s Perspective

Well folks, I have now spent a significant amount of time with the Xbox One, and I feel I can now report accurately on its accessibility. This post has been a long time coming, but as it turns out, that’s a good thing. Initially I told you all that I would not be able to experiment with the Xbox One’s TV functionality, as we didn’t have that kind of setup in the room where we game. Well, some things have changed, and the result is that the Xbox One is now in our living room, connected to the cable box. So, as it happens, I can report on that aspect of the console as well.

Let’s start with the basics, though. The console, much like the PS4, is extremely easy, though for a different reason. The menu of the Xbox One is sort of reminiscent of the Xbox360 in the way it controls, though I do not believe you’ll find things are in the same place. Yet still, the menu structure of the PS4, as I’ve already explained in its article, is even easier than that. However, what makes the Xbox One so simple is the voice control. Ladies and gentlemen, the voice control is fantastic. I can very, very easily launch any game I like, I can search for things on Bing, (though I’m still working out how to interact with those things once you find them), and yes, I can control the TV and cable box with ease.

Remember the problem with Killer Instinct I talked about in the “What we Know” article? Well, it turns out that’s not actually a problem at all. The new Killer Instinct is called Killer Instinct, but the older game is called Killer Instinct Clasic. Refer to them this way wit your voice, and you’ll be fine.

I also talked about using pins as a way to find things easily, well I’ll be honest, I haven’t used them at all. Why? Because I don’t need them. Voice control has worked so well with everything that I no longer see as much of a need for them as I originally did.

One of the Xbox One’s greatest features is it’s Game DVR. This enables you to record and share clips of your gameplay over the Xbox One community. Anyone can watch them, and your clips may end up featured on the game’s store page, where they can be watched before someone purchases a particular game to see how that game is. It should be noted that game clips can actually be viewed from the Smartglass app, not just the onsole, making it possible for us to view them as well. Yet even so, for the sighted, the PS4’s ability to record game clips is better. You get 15 minutes maximum per clip on the PS4, and only 5 minutes on the Xbox One. But you see, this is one of those things where the way the Xbox One works gives it the advantage here.

My favorite command right now is “Xbox, record that.” Why? Because that’s literally all you have to say. Say that, and the Xbox One, which is always recording the last 5 minutes or so of your gameplay much like a DVR for TV records all the time to enable you to pause and rewind, will grab the last 30 seconds of your gameplay, convert it into a clip, upload it to the community in general, and share it with your friends. All that, with one command. Sure it’s only 30 seconds, but if you do something awesome and you want to share it, that’s a really easy way to do so. There doesn’t yet exist a PS4 command that will allow us to do that, so recording and sharing gameplay there would be much, much more difficult.

Now, Xbox One does have an upload studio from which you can capture and share longer clips, (up to 5 minutes as mentioned before), but I don’t yet believe that is accessible to us. It can be controlled with voice commands, but it seems as though you have to know which clip number you’re dealing with, and I don’t think it’s possible to trim the clip down to what you want to show with your voice. I may do more research on that later, though. Maybe with the controller, something could be memorized regarding that. You can even add commentary to clips, so it would be interesting to find out how that works.

One of the greatest features of the Xoox One is the ability to scan in redeemable codes with the Kinect instead of having to enter them manually. Best of all, this is something we as blind people can do. Say “Xbox, use code,” hold the card with the code on it up to the Kinect, and wait a few seconds. There is unfortunately no audio indication that the code was successfully scanned, though it visually presents the results on screen, telling you what the code will give you. Still, if you then say “confirm,” and the Xbox responds to it, you know your scan was successful, and the code redeemed. Whatever it was you redeemed should then begin downloading, and you’re set. Yes, we can use the web site for codes we get in emails and so on, but this enables us to redeem those codes we can’t necessarily read by ourselves. That’s pretty big if you ask me.

Now, let’s talk TV. Not gonna lie, I would recommend sighted help with the initial setup. You have to choose what type of TV you have since the Kinect can function as your remote, you have to choose your cable provider, and what type of cable box you have, and so on. Once its all done, though, it works great. Since the Kinect is also your remote, you can use it to control even things like your TV volume by saying things like “Xbox, Volume Up.” And changing channels is also easy. I wanted to wathc wrestling Monday night, yeah I do that. So down I went to our living room, and I said “Xbox, watch USA.” A few seconds later, it went straight to that channel. I pumped up the volume, and enjoyed. It’s that easy. The one drawback right now is that you have to call out the channel name, and cannot use channel numbers. I predict this may change in the future.

Another small feature that is nevertheless an important one is the Kinect’s way of signing in. When you set up your profile, you can have the Kinect create a facial recognition ID for you, and you will then be signed in automatically whenever you walk into the room with the Kinect in it.Trust me guys, this really works, even if someone else is standing in front of the Kinect when you walk in. Its field of view is extremely large. But hey, even if you don’t want to do that, there is another great way to sign in. Just say “Xbox, sign in,” and then your real name, and in you go. All I have to say is “Xbox, Sign in Brandon,” and it’s done. Another thing made easier with Kinect.

I think it’s pretty obvious what my conclusion here is. The Kinect is finally, finally where we wanted it to be 3 years ago. It is, in fact, the key to the accessibility of the entire console, what with its ability to get to apps quickly, the code-scanning, the quick and easy gameplay recording and sharing, and even the sign in functionality. Smartglass is also a big help to us, but the Kinect is really what makes this console work well for the blind. Does that make it the best console? Absolutely not. I know for a fact some people don’t like talking to their devices. Some people may always prefer an accessible and easy controller-based interface, and I think the PS4 wins out there. Still, the Xbox One has shonwn itself to be a perfectly legitimate choice for blind console gaming. Thanks for reading, all, and as always feel free to comment on this post, or send me an email at superblindman01@gmail.com or contact me on twitter @superblindman or whatever you prefer. I would be glad to discuss both consoles, and I hope all these posts have provided you with something to think about. Thanks again!

Introducing Mainstream Console Gaming to the Blind Podcast!

Greetings, folks,
What follows is something I forgot to link to when it initially came out. It’s a podcast I was a part of along with Orin and John Moore, and the topic of discussion is mainstream console gaming. The target audience, though, is not existing console gamers, but blind people wishing to break into the console gaming scene. We explain how this can be done, make a few recommendations, and give a few examples of playable games. Below is a link that will take you directly to the podcast’s page on the Blind Geek Zone. Enjoy!
http://www.blind-geek-zone.net/an-introduction-to-mainstream-gaming-for-the-blind/

PS4: First Impressions

Update: The audio visual thumbnails I have mentioned several times are present in the PS4. However, when this blog was originally written, dynamic menus were not working on PS4, as it had just launched. Now that they do, I can confirm that the games that have these audio visual thumbnails will play them when you highlight the game and press down to access their dynamic menus. Another easy to use and helpful feature. I’ll leave the rest of the blog intact as I wrote it, but this is a worthwhile update, as it does improve accessibility.

I have now spent about 2 days with the PlayStation 4, and I want to take some time to let you all know what I’ve found so far in terms of accessibility of the console. I’ll put as much here as I can, but I’ll also probably forget something, so I encourage you to send me questions via twitter @superblindman, or email me at superblindman01@gmail.com. I’ll be happy to answer anything I didn’t answer here if I know it, or if I can find it out. For now, here we go.

First, and for some most important, menus do not wrap. This appears to be true in all cases. Every settings menu, the row of apps and games, everything. This makes navigation nearly a breeze for us blind folks. Just the menu memorization we’ve already grown used to, and we’re done.

The apps and games area of the PS4 is indeed organized as I thought it was, with one slight change from what I thought before. It is basically 2 rows, the bottom starting row being your apps and games, and the row above that essentially being the system management. However, if you’re downloading a game at the time, that game will actually be the first game in the list regardless of whether you’ve played it or not. (Remember, the play while downloading feature). Also, your games and apps do not start on the extreme left side of that list. The What’s New option is always the leftmost option, and that’s something that to my knowledge we never actually need to use.

An additional note here, yes and no dialogs that occasionally pop up also do not wrap, however unconventionally, yes is on the right and no is on the left. In all the cases I’ve found, you actually start on yes, and will be on no if you move to the left. Definitely important as there are situations where you do have to answer a question.

And speaking of such situations, here’s one. If you play a game on the PS4, then hit the home playstation button to exit it, that game is still open. You can return to it immediately by simply selecting it in the menu again, or using the “back to game” voice command. However, what I’m getting at here is this. If you want to launch a new game, the PS4 will display an alert, letting you know that doing so will close the previous game, and asking if you wish to proceed. So this is an example of one of these yes and no dialogs. You’re automatically on yes, so if you want to play that second game, just hit X again and it’ll launch. However, if you reconsider, go let to no.

Another thing to note. As I’ve said, games can be booted and played even while they’re installing from disc or downloading. There is actually a way we can play these games as soon as they are playable. As soon as the disc begins to install, or the download begins to, uh, download, the game becomes available in your games menu as the first game. So remember, that’s actually one to the right. If you click on it, the screen says “installing application.” However if you just stay on that screen, the game will launch as soon as it is able to. Some games appear to have a small secondary installation which is very short, so the music will fade as if the game was launching, then a few seconds later it will come back. Just select the game again, and this time it’ll work.

Now regarding voice commands. They do indeed work, but they can be a little wonky. First of all, the option to allow them is enabled by default, which is good. However, something I didn’t find out for most of my first day, you actually have to press the left trigger once before you can start speaking. The thing is, though, there are a couple of problems. First, whatever engine powers the voice commands can go faulty on you, causing you to be unable to use voice commands until you reboot the consoee. I suspect this will be fixed in a patch, but hey these are my first impressions, so there ya go. Second, though, there are some games for which voice commands don’t seem to work at all. I can’t tell you how many times I was trying to tell my PS4 to ptart Injustice with no result. It was hearing me, (there’s an audible tone to indicate this), but it just didn’t seem to understand Injustice, or Injustice: Gods Among Us, or any variant of the game’s name I could think of. I’m unsure whether or not this can, or will be fixed, as it might just be some weird omission from the PS4’s dictionary of words or something. Fortunately, as I’ve said, the menu structure is easy enough that I could figure it out. Still, voice commands are a quick and easy way to navigate the UI when they’re working.

One final, and unfortunate thing. The audio visual thumbnails the PS3 had don’t appear to exist in the way I thought they did. It seems that in truth, only some games have them, and you will only ever hear them when that game is open. Each game does have its own menu which you get if you press the options button on that game, but nothing plays unless the game is open, and it actually supports these things. This is unfortunate, but not a total loss, given how easy overall navigation appears to be.

And I think that’s it. Again, if I forgot something I won’t be supprised, and I’m perfectly open to questions. But I will say this. From an accessibility standpoint, the PS4 is awesome. The menu strutture actually makes it easier to navigate than the PS3, which was still pretty easy. Voice commands, which will probably be fixed and will work better soon, are a speedy way to jump to where you want to be, even if you’re not sure where it is in the menu. And with our access to the PlayStation Store and the accessibility of the PlayStation app, the entire console’s accessibility potential is quite high. It may even increase as features are added to the console and the app. Only time will tell. For now, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these first impressions, and I hope a few more games blind folks can play come out for the PS4, so you guys will start considering buying one. I need more friends! Signing off for now, but I’ll see you guys next week sometime when I shall be blogging about the Xbox One!